Coming to Canada

Earlier this week, I shared the photo of Helen Gammie (nee Shand) my great great grandmother. My discovery of her photo in a Saskatchewan, Canada local history book allowed me to see Helen for the first time. It also got me thinking about her immigrant experience for it was Helen’s immigration to Canada that resulted in five generations of Canadian families, including mine.

Helen and her husband Andrew, a photo of him is also shown in my recent post, lived at 76 Bedford Road, Old Machar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 1901, according to the Scottish Census of that year. With them were four of their children: Andrew, Peter, James, and Helen. My great grandfather, Alexander Shand Hadden (Helen’s son and Andrew’s step-son) had left home to find his own way in the world. In 1901 that meant working as a farm servant about 30 miles away from his parents in Gartly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The Gammie family would be joined by Williamina Alexander, a daughter that Andrew and Helen adopted in 1905.

On April 22, 1907, Andrew, Helen and their five children arrived at St. John, New Brunswick, Canada according to the ship’s passenger list available through Ancestry’s Canadian Passengers Lists, 1865 – 1935 database. The family had left Liverpool, England with, according to a passenger list margin note, $80.00 bound for Stoughton, Saskatchewan. They traveled aboard the Canadian Pacific Line’s ‘Lake Erie’ (pictured below in a photo courtesy of the Norway Heritage site where more information on this and other ships can be found).

Once in Stoughton, Saskatchewan, the Gammies were met by friends from ‘back home’ and were able to settle on a farm that they rented. They submitted an application for a homestead described as W1/2 of 2-8-11-W3rd south in the Quimper district of Ponteix, Saskatchewan. I have a copy of the homestead file and the map provided with the file clearly shows the property’s location but the surveyor’s description still frankly confuses me.

The family arrived at their homestead in the spring of 1910. Family legend held that the Gammie family arrived on their homestead too late in the year to build a house so they spent their first winter living in a cave. Well, like many aspects of family legend, it was not true that they lived in a cave but they did build a sod hut or shack (that might have felt like a cave) and lived in that structure until they were able to build a two-story frame house (the frame house was moved to Vanguard, Saskatchewan in 1955 and was still being used by family members in the early 1990’s). Stewart Gammie, a relation to the ‘Aneroid’ Gammies, explained to me in a family information sharing email, “a sod hut would have been dug into the ground a few feet and then built the walls with grass sods dug out of the ground, that were quite plentiful. This seemed to be the norm for families landing into Saskatchewan, at least for the first year.”

An important lesson learned while investigating the Gammie family is that while most of us know that not everything found on the Internet is accurate so too I found with books and in particular the Gammie family history information contained in Ponteix Yesterday and Today: Ponteix and District Volume 2. The information provided in the book is that the Gammie family arrived at the port of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Both St. John, New Brunswick and St. John’s, Newfoundland are sea ports on Canada’s Atlantic coast and although confusing, they are very much separate and geographically apart locations. It’s easy then to see how the family story moved the location of their arrival a few hundred miles.

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